Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. The visitor visa is a nonimmigrant visa for persons desiring to enter the United States temporarily for business (B-1) or for pleasure or medical treatment (B-2). Persons planning to travel to the U.S. for a different purpose, such as students, temporary workers, crewmen, journalists, etc, must apply for a different visa in the appropriate category. Travelers from certain eligible countries may also be able to visit the U.S. without a visa, through the Visa Waiver Program. Read more about how to participate in the Visa Waiver Program on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website. More helpful information on the Visa Waiver program is found on the State Department Visa Services website.

Also, you may want to find out more about “How Do I Get Legally Admitted to the U.S.” (or “How Will I be Inspected When I Come to a U.S. Port of Entry”) on the CBP website.

Qualifying for a Visa

Applicants for visitor visas must show that they qualify under provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The presumption in the law is that every visitor visa applicant is an intending immigrant. Therefore, applicants for visitor visas must overcome this presumption by demonstrating that:

  • » The purpose of their trip is to enter the U.S. for business, pleasure, or medical treatment;
  • » They plan to remain for a specific, limited period; and
  • » They have a residence outside the U.S. as well as other binding ties which will insure their return abroad at the end of the visit.

Alien truck drivers may qualify for admission as B-1 visitors for business to pick up or deliver cargo traveling in the stream of international commerce. Please see How Do I Enter the United States as a Commercial Truck Driver for more information.

Passing through a U.S. Port of Entry

Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. Immigration authorities have the authority to deny admission, and determine the period for which the bearer of a visitor visa is authorized to remain in the United States.

At the port of entry, an Immigration official must authorize the traveler’s admission to the U.S. At that time the Form I-94, Record of Arrival-Departure, which notes the length of stay permitted, is stamped. Those visitors who wish to stay beyond the time indicated on their Form I-94 must contact the USCIS to request Form I-539, Application to Extend Status. The decision to grant or deny a request for extension of stay is made solely by the USCIS.

Find out more information about the differences between a visa and a Record of Arrival-Departure on the CBP website.

Please feel free to contact our office on 510.7425887 or [email protected] for any additional assistance.